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Indonesian pulp giant APRIL is bulldozing Indigenous community forests

Once again, an Indonesian pulp and paper company is clearing the forests of indigenous communities to replace them with industrial tree plantations. Once again, villagers are protesting. Once again, the police and authorities are siding with the company.

In 2009, PT Toba Pulp Lestari announced that it was expanding its pulp and paper operations in Porsea, near Lake Toba in Sumatra from 165,000 tonnes per year to 300,000 tonnes per year. Since then, the company has been clearing communities’ forests, despite on-going land conflicts and protests by local communities. Recently, 31 villagers were arrested trying to stop the company from destroying their forests. 16 men are still in prison in Medan.

The indigenous people that live in Sipituhuta and Pandumaan villages have farmed resin from benzoin trees in the forests for more than 300 years. By destroying the forests and the benzoin trees, PT Toba Pulp Lestari is also destroying their livelihoods. “I struggle now to feed my children,” one of the villagers says. “All that will be left is to be a TPL plantation labourer. I do not want to be a labourer.”

Life Mosaic has produced a short video about the communities’ protests and the recent arrests (also available in Bahasa Indonesia, here):

PT Toba Pulp Lestari’s mill is owned by Sukanto Tanoto, the CEO of paper giant APRIL and one of Indonesia’s richest men. Activists in Indonesia are now calling for a boycott of Paper One, one APRIL’s most well-known brands.

Rainforest Action Network has set up an email action asking APRIL to respect human rights. The communities of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan have three demands:

  • Release all arrested community members and drop all charges against them;
  • Stop any further plantation expansion on their lands;
  • Return their stolen lands.

AMAN has put out a statement about the arrests:

Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago) deeply regrets this incident and strongly condemns the arrests carried out by the security forces. PT. TPL and the security authorities must respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Panduman and Sipituhuta. Government of Indonesia shall take concrete action in addressing this conflict.
Futhermore, AMAN urges the security authorities of Humbang Hasundutan to immediately release 31 members of Pandumaan and Sipituhuta indigenous community. Moreover, the security authorities must also prevent violence and prioritize peaceful ways in resolving this conflict.

PT Toba Pulp Lestari was previously known as PT Inti Indorayon Utama. Since the mill started operations in 1989 it has faced resistance from local communities, because of deforestation to feed the mill and pollution from the mill. In 1998, massive protests by the local community effectively shut down the mill. In January 2000, then-Environment Minister Sonny Keraf recommended that the mill be closed down or relocated. Instead, the company changed its name, changed its board, raised new money and is now expanding its destructive operations.

Villagers have mapped out their land and requested that the Ministry of Forestry exclude their land from PT Toba Pulp Lestari’s concession. In 2010, Longgena Ginting, now head of Greenpeace Indonesia, reported that PT Toba Pulp Lestari had cut 5,000 of the villagers’ benzoin trees, according to community maps.

If the Government of Indonesia is serious about reducing deforestation, why is it allowing APRIL to continue bulldozing the community forests of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan?

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  1. Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) would like to clarify some misinformation stated above by the author. TPL is not APRIL, and the prospectivy provided in the article do not accurately reflect the facts of the matter. TPL is a company listed on the Indonesian Stock Exchange, with its own board of directors headed by President Director Subash Chander Paruthi. For PL’s public statement on the events described in the above article, as well as a full chrunology of event. Please refer to TPL’s Website.

  2. @cahairuddin pasaribu (#1) – Thanks for this. I know that Toba Pulp Lestari and APRIL are not the same company, but are you really trying to tell me that there are no links between Toba Pulp Lestari and APRIL? And that Rainforest Action Network is wasting its time asking people to write to Sukanto Tanoto, CEO of April?

    I’d love to read Toba Pulp Lestari’s public statement about the bulldozing of indigenous communities’ forests. Unfortunately, the website that you give in your comment appears to be down at the moment. Perhaps you could cut and paste the public statement in a comment below. Thanks!

  3. @cahairuddin pasaribu – if APRIL wished to disassociate itself from Toba Pulp Lestari, might it not be wise to oblige TPL to stop using APRIL’s logo? TBL and APRIL are part of Royal Golden Eagle International, a group based in Singapore, whose Founder and Chairman is mentioned in posting #2 of this page.

    Separately, those who carry out due diligence prior to procuring products made at least partly out of wood (/pulp), rayon, or palm oil from companies in that part of the world will presumably take into account allegations of financial impropriety – see for example

  4. Dera Chris Lang
    TPL’s Management fully run the operation independently without any link to APRIL Group. Please try to access our website once again. Thank’s

  5. @cahairuddin pasaribu (#5) – The TPL website is back up – here’s the public statement:

    Mar 12, 2013
    Plantation workers from Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) face fourth mob attack since 2009


    PT Toba Pulp Lestari,Tbk

    Friday, 8 March 2013

    Plantation workers from Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) face fourth mob attack since 2009

    Medan, 8 March 2013 – Workers at the Tele Estate of Toba Pulp Lestari were recently faced with a violent mob attack by a group of individuals claiming to be from Padumaan and Sipituhuta communities in the sub district of Humbang Hasundutan, North Sumatera.

    The 25 February attack, the fourth targeting the company’s facilities since 2009, saw approximately 300 individuals armed with knives and spears arriving at TPL’s Tele Estate to confront company plantation workers.

    ”TPL management immediately reported the incident to the local police so that safety measures could be taken to prevent potential casualties resulting from a violent attack,” said TPL Director, Juanda Panjaitan SE.

    TPL made this statement to clarify inaccurate information in the public domain alleging that the company had ordered police arrests and violated human rights of certain individuals following the 25th February incident. Certain parties alleged that the arrests were made due to land conflicts with the company. The company clarified that the Police had indeed arrested certain individuals who were suspected of breaching laws through their violent actions during the confrontation, and the arrests were not related to any land ownership issues.

    ”We cannot tolerate any threat of violence against our people who are working legally; these kinds of actions are against the law and we have the responsibilty to report such incidents to the Police,” Juanda added.

    TPL previously issued an official statement that on 25 February, about 70 workers employed by a TPL contractor were planting eucalyptus trees at Working Area 4 when about 300 armed individuals arrived in the area around 1.00pm. The workers sought to avoid a physical clash with the group. The workers instead stood aside and did not respond to the group’s provocations.

    The group proceeded to vandalise and commit arson against company property, setting fire to a Colt Diesel truck, the working camp area, as well as other equipment such as solo pumps, power sprayers and safety clothing.

    The group also chopped down eucalyptus trees that were ready for harvest in Working Area 8 and created a barricade using felled logs on the main road to block access.

    The local Police, led by Commisioner of Police Nasution, arrived on the scene and secured the area by confiscating weapons and arresting armed individuals. Those individuals were subsequently charged by the Police as official suspects.

    TPL Director Juanda said, ”As a responsible corporate citizen, we have an obligation to report incidents like these to the authorities, and leave it to the Police to carry out the Law”.

    Juanda added, ”There are peaceful means to resolve disagreements and we hope that moving forward, all members of the community will work together and resolve differences through dialogue.”

    = end=

    Background information

    Incidents since 2009

    A series of violent incidents against TPL employees, contractors and workers in the Tele estate located in the sub district of Humbang Hasundutan have been occuring since 2009.

    On July 14, 2009, a mob of about 250 people arrived at the Tele estate and set fire to 6000 m3 of wood and two bulldozer in Working Area 9. The Police named four suspects. Until now, the case has not been resolved despite an agreement with the City Council (Muspida-Plus) that the legal process would continue while the suspects were suspended.

    On August 3, 2009, about 70 people arrived at the Tele Estate and again set fire to 21,000 m3 of wood.

    In September 2012, a violent attack occured in Working Area 8 by a group of individuals who identified themselves as being from Pendumaan and Sipituhuta villages. An excavator was burned and security officer Brigadir Rhot Bastian Simamora and three other members of TPL’s security personnel were physically attacked. The four injured were taken to the hospital for treatment. The mob also seized a police officer’s weapon. Eight individuals were identified and named as suspects but until today, this case has not been processed.

    A month later, another group attacked TPL workers who were removing the burned excavator. The group held these workers hostage along with two security officers for several hours.

    Ever-changing demands by the Community

    TPL has kept records of all community claims since it began plantation operations in the Tele sector. Initially, community claims centered around farmers who were concerned that frankincense (resin) trees that grew on the company’s consession would be cut down in the process of plantation development. To address these concerns, TPL made a commitment by signing an MOU that its plantation development would not affect the frankincense trees, which would be left intact for community use.

    Community demands then changed into claims that TPL’s concession areas were actually the community’s ”hak ulayat” or traditional land, and demands were made to turn over ownership of the land to the community.

    However TPL does not own its concessions, which are licensed to the company by the Government of Indonesia and zoned for HTI plantation development. The company does not have the ability or legal right to turn over land to the community, as land use is regulated by the Ministry of Forestry. As a HTI license holder, TPL is legally required to proceed with plantation activity despite disturbances to operations.

    Various solutions have been put forward to resolve these issues through numerous meetings with the government at the regency, provincial and national levels. The last meeting, conducted in 2012 at the Ministry of Forestry, was initiated by Commision A DPRD of North Sumatera and was attended by representatives from the Regency Government, the sub district Humbang Hasundutan and TPL. The meeting recommended a collaborative development project of frankincense (resin) trees on the TPL concession which would be a community livelihood project.

    The Ministry of Forestry has requested the three parties: the community,TPL and Regency Government of Humbahas, to sign an MoU to this commitment.

    Currently, a draft of the MoU has been presented by TPL to the stakeholders involved, but no response has been received to date.


  6. every heard pt.tpl
    My heart is always crying
    The company that has made me lose all my friends
    The company also has made me have to go away from home village when I was 3 years old.
    I know it’s hard to resist them when I was a normal person.
    so. I would prefer to beat them on the stock exchange. I swear